It’s the end of an era for Britain.
For centuries, Britain’s House of Commons has adhered to strict rules (pdf) seen as vital to the smooth-running of daily affairs. These include calling members of parliament “my honourable friend,” not “Bill” or “Jill” (or any other first name, for that matter) and dressing in a way that demonstrates “respect for the House and for its central position in the life of the nation.” For men, so the rules go, “a jacket and tie is expected.” For women, “the equivalent level of formality should be observed.”
Some of these rules have been updated as time as gone by, such as not calling your peer a “pipsqueak” or a “tart”—archaic words now specifically banned in a parliamentary setting. But it took until today for the prestigious house to grapple with a topic plaguing men worldwide: when (and where) is it appropriate to go business casual?
The debate started when Peter Bone, a Conservative MP, enquired as to why a tie-less MP had been allowed to ask a question the previous day. In days gone by, this would have been viewed as an impertinent. Convention has it that the speaker should, on seeing someone show “flagrant disrespect in their manner of dress,” remove said person from the house.
Alas, those glory days have gone. Watch the video above to see John Bercow, the Speaker of Britain’s House of Commons, wrangle with the notion of updating a centuries-old tradition of formal wear. The glorious exchange includes whether women should also be obliged to wear ties.
Britain is not alone in grappling with whether political dress codes should be updated to reflect the business world’s move towards more semi-formal attire.
Greek Prime Minister Alex Tspiras’ casual dress is a source of controversy amongst more traditional Europeans. And the French National Assembly on Tuesday engaged in its own row over attire when Jean Luc Mélénchon’s far-left party turned up notably tie-less, much to the ire of the Assembly’s more traditional types. One Conservative MP said it represented “a lack of respect.” But Mélénchon clearly adored the parallels that could be drawn with France’s former revolutionaries. “We’ve had the sans culottes [without trousers], now we have the sans cravates [without ties]!” he joked, referring to the decision by the rebellious working class to wear long trousers instead of the culottes (silk breeches) worn by the upper classes.
For some British politicians, the tie ruling was an unwelcome breakdown of tradition. But for most British politicians, we suspect, a more casual dress code will make balmy summer days a lot more bearable in the House, where arguments over Brexit, abortion, and public sector pay are heating up.